posted by Eugenia Loli on Thu 31st Aug 2006 01:45 UTC once again kindly stepped up and sent us in the next-generation Motorola Linux-based ROKR-E2 feature phone. In the tradition of the ROKR devices, the E2 is also built around the idea of music on the go, while it's the first Linux phone to have an initial retail cost smaller than $256. Read inside for our detailed review, video and pictures.

right-click to save video

In the box (arrived in just two days from Hong Kong) we found the cellphone, an 850 mAh battery, 128 MB transflash-in-SD card, the manual, software CDs, a USB cable, a 3.5mm handsfree and a travel charger. The battery was almost full when the box arrived, but we fully charged it for an extra hour or so too. This feature phone (not a smartphone) features triband GSM, 1.3 MP camera with flash, 11 MBs internal storage, full SD slot, 2.2" QVGA screen, stereo sound, FM radio, 3.5mm audio jack, USB 2.0 charging & file transfer and Bluetooth. The phone is just 107 grams and it feels very good in the hand. The keypad is easily reachable and pressable, except the * 0 and # buttons at the bottom of the phone which are a bit more difficult to press because of their reduced size. The background light on the keypad is very well done and it enables usage in the dark.

This is the first Motorola phone shipped that it's based on the Chameleon UI non-touchscreen engine, instead of their EZX one. Having used both UIs, I noticed that the Chameleon UI is somewhat derived by the EZX one (albeit very modified). Both are based on the Qt Embedded platform (not Qtopia). This phone uses Linux kernel v2.4.20, modified by Montavista.

On the front of the phone you will find a pretty normal-looking keypad, just like in most cellphones. You get the softkeys, a pretty nice 5-way joystick, a "back" key and a special music key that either loads the media player or puts it in the background (the UI allows for some form of multitasking, but this doesn't work with all applications). On the left side you get the volume up/down keys (when the media player is not loaded it acts as a Profiles loader), the voice record key and the music playback keys (previous, play/pause, forward). On the right hand side you get the voice recognition button (long press loads the Voice Recorder), the lock sliding button (similar to the ones found on iPods, there is no automatic soft-lock mechanism available), the hot-swapped SD slot and the standard mini-usb port. There is no dedicated camera button neither the existing buttons are configurable. There is a lanyard/wrist-wrap hole on the back of the phone, but if you actually attach one there it would cover the camera, so I am not sure this was the best place for a lanyard.

The 3.5mm headphone jack is on the top of the phone. Having a standard 3.5mm jack is a big plus for audiophiles because it means that they can use any kind of headphones they want. My husband for example refuses to listen to music with anything else but his semi-professional Sony headphones. We tested the phone with two different 3.5mm headphones and it worked perfectly. The sound was clear, the bass was there, and the volume levels were high enough. The sound quality of the included handsfree proved good too in both mono (conversation mode) and stereo (music or FM).

Speaking about sound quality I must note that the ROKR-E2 has Bluetooth (without EDR) that supports the A2DP and AVRCP profiles. This means that you can use wireless stereo bluetooth headphones to listen to music/FM and you also have the ability to fast forward or go to the next song without using your handset's controls. Hopefully A2DP/AVRCP will become the norm for all new handsets soon (currently only Samsung includes these profiles on each and every one of their handsets). Regarding Bluetooth speed, during our file transfer tests it maxed out at about 45 KB/sec which is a good result.

I very much liked the fact that the ROKR-E2 comes with a full SD slot. I tried both the included transflash-in-SD card and a 512 MB Kingston card, both worked wonderfully. Copying big files to it was pretty fast too. According to Motorola the phone has been tested with up to 2 GBs of SD. A swarm of 2 or 4 GBs of hotswapped SDs can create a very nice alternative to the iPods or the (now very popular) Sandisk mp3 players. These days you can find 2 GB SD card for just $35 online. Each one of these cards can hold approximately 500 songs. Another good addition was that the phone now can recognize FAT32, while the previous Motorola Linux phones required the flash cards to be formatted as FAT16. The only problem with the idea of RoKR-E2 as a media player-only is that while the phone has an airplane mode, it won't work without a SIM. Other music phones in the market load the necessary applications for multimedia or office use even without a SIM in the phone. The previous Motorola Linux phones could do that too, but the ROKR-E2 can't.

The quality and brightness of the QVGA screen is amazing. I have it on the lowest brightness and yet the phone is fully usable indoors. When outdoors, you will have to jack it up a little. One funny thing we should mention here is that all levels/meters in the phone don't go from 1 to 100 or from 1 to 10. They go from 0 to 7, clearly indicating the phone's somewhat geek nature .

right-click to save the camera video The 1.3 MP camera won't get any awards, but it takes good-enough pictures if there is enough light. Its included flash is a welcome addition and it even has a mode where the flash will get lit automatically if the room is too dark. You can also record video up to QCIF resolution (3gp format only) and apply zoom to it or some basic filters (e.g. b&w, night mode, add borders etc). The user interface for the camera is pretty simple, although a dedicated button on the side would have been nice (a camera button in the place of the mini-USB, and move the mini-USB on the bottom of the device). One small problem I found was that the actual picture snapped was with 1 second delay from the moment you pressed the button, so make sure you do not move the camera for 2 seconds after you pushed the button (otherwise you will get fuzzy pics).

Table of contents
  1. "The Hardware"
  2. "The Software"
  3. "The Problems"
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